Philippe Guérande (Edouard Mathé) is a reporter who is investigating the crimes of an underworld gang that calls themselves the Vampires. The Vampires are involved in much of the major crime in the area including murder. The gang is led by a mastermind known as the Grand Vampire (Jean Ayme). His main co-hort is a woman that calls herself Irma Vep (Musidora). Irma Vep is an anagram for Vampire.
Philippe receives a telegram reporting the discovery of the decapitated body of the agent responsible for investigating the Vampire crimes in Saint-Clement-Sur-Cher. Philippe goes to the area and stays with a family friend Dr. Nox. Nox is in the middle of selling his home to a very rich American, Mrs. Simpson (Rita Herlor). During the night Philippe wakens and discovers a hidden passage behind a painting. In the morning Mrs. Simpson finds that her jewels and money are stolen.
Expecting to be blamed Philippe rushes to the police station and explains the situation. When Nox and Mrs. Simpson show up they are left in a room while Philippe takes the police back to the estate. In the secret passage they find the head of the investigator. Back at the police station Nox is gone and Mrs. Simpson is dead. Nox turns out to be Grand Vampire. So begins a cat and mouse game between Philippe and the Vampires.
Another criminal element run by Juan-Jose Moreno (Fernand Herrmann) comes into play when the he stumbles on one of the Vampires schemes and robs them. The Vampires in turn rob Moreno taking back their original ill gotten gains. Philippe catches Moreno and turns him over to the police. Moreno manages to escape and now Philippe is in his crosshairs for turning him in. The Vampires are also still after Philippe. Moreno is still a thorn in the Vampires side when he continues to try to steal their stolen property. It’s a three way hate fest that shows no sign of stopping.
On Philippe’s side is a reformed Vampire by the name of Oscar-Cloud Mazamette (Marcel Levesque). Mazamette is part help and part comic relief. He does manage to be in the right place at the right time on more than one occasion. Between the two they manage to stumble along after both criminal enterprises as best they can even when the players change resulting in a never ending succession of Grand Vampires.
“Les Vampires” was released in 1915 and was written and directed by Louis Feuillade. It is a ten chapter silent French serial. Each chapter is, more or less, about a different crime committed by the criminal gang and is basically a separate story. They are connected by the gang of criminals called The Vampires and the newspaperman that is after the gang. There are no cliff hangers as you would find in normal American serials. At times it resembles more of a portmanteau than a serial; however, the chapters are slightly more connected. The entire serial is about seven hours long which is makes it one of the longest serials ever.
The serial is the second of three main serials done by Feuillade. The first was “Fantomas” 1913 and the third was “Judex” 1916
French serials suffer from some of the same issues that American serials do. Low budgets and short production schedules can sometimes affect product but in Feuillade’s hands, instead of a drawback, they enhance the quality aspects of the final outcome. The most amazing part of the serial is that it was basically written as it went along. Yes it’s a little scattered but to me that’s part of the charm of the serial. After all it is seven hours long. They need to do something to keep your attention for that long.
Having been an acrobat at one time, Musidora did all her own stunts in the serial.